Earlier this year I was at the Seder of family friends who hadn't seen me for awhile. In the kitchen, one by one they'd grab my elbow and ask, "Oh my gahd, aren't you excited about the TV deal? The new book deal? Everything?" And I was, of course, like, "Ehhhhh. Sure." They looked at me like I'd taken a public swig from Elijah's cup. It's not that I'm not excited, it's just that it gets harder and harder to reproduce excitement when asked. But it's also that I am excited by much smaller, simpler things. What am I really most proud of? What can you get me to gush and gush about when asked?
Junior year of high school I worked at "The Paper Factory," where free gift wrapping came with all holiday purchases. Any time a customer spotted the row of wrapping behind the counter, I'd think, "Ohhhh shit," because back then I was not very good at wrapping. I had sloppy corners. My curls were looser than a year-old perm (which, incidentally, I have). But, somewhere down the line, I became an excellent wrapper! You want proof? Behold this season's offering of my holiday gifts, all having come together for the first time ever (as you can see, this year's theme is "Blue Winter"):
I'm not only proud of my gift wrapping, which I think demonstrates an exceptional level of patience, attention, creativity, and a crow-like appreciation for shiny things, but I am also proud of my gift giving. Those who know me know that I subscribe to tens of magazines and catalogs, and that year-round I clip those items that remind me of the people I know and love. Then, with my glue-stick that deposits purple glue but dries clear, I paste down those clippings onto white pages until I have made myself an extensive and personalized holiday gift purchasing catalog.
This year's favorite catalog founding father picture? It's a duel between Sharper Image's Richard Thalheimer and Gadget Universe's Alexander Elnekaveh. My dislike of the chin-on-fist author photo has been the subject of many conversations, but apparently the pose plagues not only the literary community but the electronics businessperson community as well. You ask, which man fares better?
Richard's picture appears much more candid, as though taken at a formal event-- perhaps a Bat Mitzvah?-- and not explicitly for the catalog. There seems to be some kind of festive wood paneling in the background. In his tux, Dick, almost eerily wide-eyed, says, "I may be dressed up, but I'm no stiff." His chin-on-hand pose is not meant to convey intellectual weightiness as it usually does in an author photo, but instead a certain approachability, a friendliness. The photographer swooping by the table during a band break asks Dick, "Can I get a picture for the Bat Mitzvah girl?" Dick and her father go way back to college, and among the family Dick is affectionately referred to as "Uncle Richy-Rich." So Dick says, "Sure, fella," and then brings fist to chin, summoning a little bit of "Awww shucks" appeal to counter the formality of his penguin suit. By choosing this photo to kick off the Sharper Image Christmas catalog, Dick hopes to say to his customers, "I'm classy, but not stuffy." Interesting choice.
Alexander, on the other hand, performs an abstracted version of chin-on-fist, resting his head against the cushion of a black leather chair so that the fist is not actually supporting the chin. If you'll notice, the fist is not even precisely below the chin, but slightly below the lower lip, like Alex is wiping some eggnog from the corner of his mouth. Alex's version of chin-on-mouth is a much more pensive one than Dick's, as if the photographer has caught him during a brief respite from hunting for the universe's newest gadgets, and there is an almost troubled quality to Alex's gaze that haunts me. Has gadget hunting consumed his soul, led his wife to say, "I don't even know who you are any more!" and his teen son to toss a "nose hair trimmer w/ vacuum, Pg 5" at him in explosive anger? Alex's eyebrows, shirt, and five o'clock shadow look as if they wish to retreat into the leather of the chair, as though a part of Alex wishes that he could be invisible and ethereal as an electronic pulse beating through the dark, cold night.
So who wins "Best Founder Picture Inside a Holiday Catalog for Winter '05?" It's Alexander, of course, not only for the mystery and timeless elegance he manages to convey in his medium shot, but for really outdoing himself by signing his letter to his customers with a simple, dashed-off, "The Wizard." Dick just puts it all out there, and while perhaps he has achieved the chummy effect he so clearly desires, he loses points by failing to leave the customer wanting more. Alex/"The Wizard", however, takes top honors by inviting us into his secret den of gadgetry, staring us down with his tortured gaze, and then slamming the door on our faces before we get a chance to figure out just how this sly cat does his tricks.